DISCLAIMER:: do not own. just borrowing for purposes of creative expression. no profit obtained.
A/N:: i have been wayyyyyy too busy to put any serious thought into dreamscape (though I completely promise than an update is in the works and will be coming promptly, i swear), but i really really hate not setting aside some time and writing, so this is what came of my efforts and all that jazz. it's not done yet i suppose, more chapters to come when i get another two day break from work and if there's any interest in the story. i don't know when that'll be. anyway, enjoy. please please please review if you like it.
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Chapter 1: Her Eyes
Her blonde hair, falling in golden curls around her strong jaw, their feminine design softening the sharp edges of her face, whipped as her head turned back and forth; she was searching for someone. Her green eyes regarded every person in the room, sliding over them one by one as if scanning them into her brain. She was wearing tight jeans. She wore a tight brown long sleeved shirt with a dark green sweater over it, just as tight, showing off her feminine curves. She didn't look like she belonged here and no one remembered her from any of the previous meetings but it wasn't in the nature of a support group to question someone's presence in their midst. It was meant to be a safe haven, even for those who didn't belong among their ranks.
She sat at the edge of the room, close enough to not draw suspicion but far enough away to be away from the fray, a first timer. The expression on her face told that she had a mission, but also gave away that she didn't want to be here. The subtle wringing of her hands was a dead giveaway of her uncomfortability about being around people she didn't group herself with. The brief flash in her eyes confessed that, like most outsiders, she wrongly believed sadness was contagious. Because that's all outsiders saw when they looked at groups like this one. They saw despair, something to cry about. But they didn't know how much strength their was to battle the encroaching sadness. There are a million reasons to be sad, but there are also a million reasons to fight back. That's who these people were, fighters. But she didn't see that, and that more than anything labeled her as a someone else, someone not like them.
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Three Hours Earlier
"Remind me why I'm here again?" Emma Swan groaned as she drug her fingers through her unruly blonde curls. "It's my day off."
"I got a warrant for you."
Emma rolled her eyes as she regarded her boss. Gus McMurray looked like a cross between an old school police detective and an Irish mobster; Emma would hardly be surprised if both were true. He had wiry brown hair, thicker around his temples than it was anywhere else on his head and a beard to match, the brown colour spliced through with natural highlights of red that betrayed his Celtic roots. Though his accent had faded in the decades he'd been in the States, his inflection broke through whenever he was feeling anything intensely, be it anger or elation. His office, a small room at the back of a small business that looked more like a converted supply closet than a legitimate office, was only big enough to hold his desk, a couple chairs, and a file cabinet. Papers littered his desk in senseless heaps, broken only by the occasional mug of stale tea, each forgotten at some point over the past week only part way finished. There was Monday's to the right, Tuesday's to the left, Wednesday's dead center, Thursday's behind the computer monitor, and Friday's sitting on top of a stack of papers playing king of the mountain over the other mugs. Most Monday mornings, when she shuffled in at eight in the morning to open up shop before Gus arrived at nine, she'd clean up the previous week's mugs, collecting them to dump them out in the little sink next to the coffee maker and wash them out with the small bottle of Dawn she'd purchased for such occasions. She was too scared that if she didn't wash them out, he'd just dump the tea and use a dirty mug, or worse, drink the old tea from it until the mug was empty.
"It's my day off Gus. I don't do weekends you know that." She was already turning from the office, dismissing his comments. He'd tried this several times before, pleading her to work weekends. He had one other bail bondsman, a thirty year old pretty boy who was more vain than she was, who took the weekend shifts. Troy had a nine to five on the weekdays when she worked. That was fine with her considering she and Troy got along like oil and water.
"Troy's down in the Hamptons, on vacation with that puma of his."
Emma had to bite back a laugh, instead rolling her eyes. She looked back over her shoulder. "I believe the correct term is cougar. That botox Barbie he spends his evenings with is a cougar."
Gus grunted in acknowledgement before holding up a folder and waving it temptingly as if it were one of her favourite bear claws from Cecile's.
"Who's the mark?" She held her ground, staying in the safety of the doorway that separated his small office from the main room, crossing her arms defiantly across her chest. She wasn't going to give up her Saturday for just any easy grab.
"Our old friend Barker." He raised his eyebrows and held the folder out towards her, obviously confident she'd take it.
"Again? God, you'd think the legal system would just wise up, throw his ass in jail and bury the key." She stepped forward and grabbed the file. There was no need to flip through it. She knew Barker's rap sheet without having to look. He was a career criminal, and a repeat jumper, strictly small time which was why he had done less than a nickel of actual time behind bars. But he had a nasty habit of making friends with decent people who didn't know no better and it seems every time he came up against a new charge he had some new fool of a good Samaritan there to co-sign his bonds for him. It was that fact that made her detest Barker more than the average mark. "What's he done this time?"
"Possession. Bond was co-signed by a friend out in Brookline, a Ms. Cheryl Teague."
"Brookline?" She raised an eyebrow and even let herself look impressed for a moment. Moving on up, Barker? Brookline may not be Beacon Hill, but it definitely wasn't anything to be ashamed of. And it was definitely not a place for lowlifes like Dirk Barker. "What is he doing rubbing elbows with someone out in Brookline?"
Gus nodded towards the folder. "Sounds like the place to start. Find his connection to Cheryl Teague and you'll find him."
She groaned in frustration and turned for the door, file clutched firmly in her hand. "I get double commission on this one!"
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The house of Cheryl Teague was a modest one for the typical resident of Brookline, but it was still far more lavish than anything Emma had ever lived in before. Most families with this kind of money skipped right over foster care and hopped on the fast track to adoption and she had known quite quickly in life that adoption was the unattainable dream. No one wanted a scrawny little girl with dirty blonde hair, who wore a baseball cap and torn jeans over dresses, who played stick ball in the streets with the boys from the home instead of focusing on learning her manners with the other girls. She had a loud mouth, a stubborn attitude, and a masculine demeanor and that had made her sink to the back of the pack. She had learned quite fast that she didn't have to be on top to survive, she just had to be willing to fight tooth and nail to not be last place.
That wasn't to say she hadn't longed for a family just like every other kid in the system. She had stood in line with the other kids at Woodbridge Children's Home every time a potential family had come to make the rounds. She had scrubbed her face, combed her hair, put on her Sunday dress, and given them her best smile. And every time she had been skipped over for one reason or another. Mimi's red hair and freckles were just too cute to pass up, Julie had the sweetest smile they'd ever seen, Lauren knew how to play the violin. The differences were hardly worthwhile, but for some reason it's what those parents had wanted at the time. For many years she'd just convinced herself that it would be her turn when the time was right. But with every time she was passed over, a little more doubt seeped in, dragging that lingering bitterness behind it, until one day, she stopped expecting them to pick her. She stopped scrubbing her face, stopped wearing her dress, stopped smiling hopefully at these people. Because, let's face it, who wants a surly fourteen year old with mediocre grades and the faintest hint of cigarette smoke clinging to her clothes?
Shoving down her musings over the failure that was her childhood, she walked up the brick walkway to the disgustingly cheery two story yellow house. A equally cheery harvest cornucopia hung on the door to celebrate the season. It's presence reminded her that she needed to pick up a few Christmas cards to give away to the three people in the world she actually had any interaction with: Gus, her landlady Anne, and (reluctantly) Troy. She never kept track of the holidays anymore. Her small downtown flat was just as empty as it was any other time of year, no tree, no decorations, no annoying carols on a play list on her iPod. Emma didn't do holidays; they were just a reminder that she was alone. Just like her birthday. Thanksgiving was only a week away and then Christmas would sneak in, followed closely by New Years. She was planning to be out of Boston by then, on to a new destination. She was considering someplace warmer for this move, maybe Miami.
She knocked to the side of the door, careful not to disturb the cornucopia, though the decoration's massive size made it difficult. The door swung open, revealing a woman who appeared to be just as cheery as her house. Her blonde hair was cut into a stylish bob, her beige sweater ironed, her brown slacks pressed. She looked nothing like someone who would have dealings with Barker.
"May I help you?"
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Emma accepted the cup of steaming tea the woman offered her, watching as Cheryl walked over to her own chair and sat down, smiling pleasantly. "How did you say you know Dirk?"
Emma smiled. "Oh he's an old friend." She hoped that the woman wouldn't drill her with too many questions about her connection to Dirk Barker. Emma was trained in the art of lying, her job sometimes required it, but she wasn't particularly fond of it. She'd once been lied to and subsequently betrayed and the mere act of being false now left a bad taste in her mouth.
"I haven't seen Dirk since last month's meeting. We used to go to coffee occasionally, but it dropped off a few months ago when Raymond started getting worse. Just devastated poor Dirk it did. They're so close." Cheryl shook her head sadly.
Emma had read enough of Barker's file to know that Raymond was Dirk's older brother. He lived up in Salem, but that was all she knew about him. If she truly were a friend of Barker's she would now about the news with Raymond, so instead of inquiring after that, she chose a different line of questioning. "Group? Dirk never mentioned anything about a group." She let the appropriate amount of concern cover her face as if she were worried about a friend.
"Oh, it's nothing to worry after honey. Just a monthly support group for people like Dirk and myself. In fact, our November meeting is only a little over an hour away. Why don't you come along? I'm sure Dirk could use the support and it'd be nice for him to see an old friend."
Emma's eyes lit up. This had been too easy. She almost felt bad about taking advantage of this lady's hospitality. But she hadn't built her reputation as one of the best bail bondsmen in Boston by being nice. Sometimes you had to play dirty to catch the ones who didn't want to be found.
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She looked around the room trying to spot Barker. He wasn't milling about among the gathered, but she had arrived early to make sure she'd be there before he was. Better for her to see his entrance than the other way around. The sign on the door was just a taped up sheet of printer paper with boxy black letters proclaiming Support Group C. She still had no idea what it was for. Obviously it wasn't AA. Those were never held in such formal settings but in much more nondescript locales. The whole point of AA and NA was the anonymity. So what was she here supporting?
At first, no one seemed to take notice of her presence, except Cheryl, who had stopped by to give her a quick squeeze to the arm in greeting before bustling about to greet others as they filed in. She sat near the back, not wanting to intrude upon these people's privacy. She wasn't supposed to be here and she was planning to leave as soon as she could manage to get hands on her mark. But then she felt eyes on her, an intense scrutiny. Her eyes scanned the people assembled, some already seated, some milling by the table loaded down with an array of refreshments, some standing in little groups chatting about their goings on in life since the last meeting. And then she met the eyes that were regarding her so shrewdly.
The woman was one she hadn't noticed before, but she was baffled as to how she could have possibly skipped over someone so unnaturally exquisite. She was beautiful to say the least. Her hair barely grazed the tops of her shoulders, a dark mane that hugged at her neck, her eyes, just as dark had something unreadable in them, her full lips were neither smiling or frowning. She wore what looked to be a designer suit, a tight hugging pencil skirt and matching blazer in a flattering charcoal with a hint of a plum coloured silk button up underneath. Black suede pumps completed the outfit. She looked like a lawyer.
Emma met her gaze head on. She had nothing to hide and it was easier to focus on this woman and return her scrutiny than to muse on her thoughts of not belonging here. Someone approached the woman, causing her to break her concentration first. Emma felt a small irrational feeling of triumph over winning their impromptu staring contest.
"That's Regina. Don't mind her; she's critical of everyone."
Emma started and her head whipped to regard Cheryl, who had appeared right next to her without her noticing. Curse that woman, Regina, for distracting her. She glanced quickly around but noted that Barker still hadn't arrived. Good. At least she hadn't totally botched the grab. She smiled pleasantly at Cheryl. "Critical?"
"She doesn't trust easy." Cheryl shrugged as if to say 'that's just Regina'. "But if you ask me, she needs this group more than the rest of us."
Unexpectedly something in her ached for the sadness in Cheryl's eyes for Regina. She didn't even know this woman; why should she care? But her eyes turned towards the woman in the suit, still engaged in conversation with the woman who had interrupted their eye-lock a few minutes ago. Briefly, Regina's eyes flashed away from the person she was talking to and locked with Emma's once more. Another second later, they were gone. She found she missed them instantly. She turned to ask after this Regina, when over Cheryl's head, she saw Barker slink in. Crap. Showtime.
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Regina Mills hated that she had to come here and ask for this. But she had no choice. She had to be in Boston in just a few hours. The drive itself would take almost two and a half and that was if the traffic were light. Damn the nanny for quitting at a time like this.
She sighed in resignation as she lifted her arm and knocked solidly on the door.
It swung open immediately, a stunned Mary Margaret Blanchard, coat in hand, mouth hanging agape, standing just inside. "Reg… Mayor Mills… w-what brings you here?"
Regina eyed the coat in the woman's hand and the purse slung over her shoulder with a growing sense of dread. "Did I interrupt? Were you leaving?"
"No… well, I mean, yes, but just to run down to Granny's for a bite." The schoolteacher looked torn between whether or not she should ask Regina to accompany her. Part of her didn't want to be rude, but the other part dreaded spending a whole lunch hour with the cold mayor.
Regina saved her from having to offer. "I was wondering if I could bother you to watch Henry for me. I have to go down to Boston on business and the nanny quit this morning. I asked Katherine, but she was unavailable." She didn't want to utter the next words but she knew they were the only way to cinch the deal. "You're the only other person I trust him with."
As expected, Mary Margaret melted at the compliment, especially when it came from someone who so rarely offered them. "Of course I can watch him. Is he here? Or should I watch him at your house?"
Regina glanced over the woman's head and into the shabby little excuse of a flat the woman called home. It wasn't her first choice of places for her son to spend the afternoon, but it was clean and adequate enough. "He's down in the car. I'll go retrieve him." She turned to go back down the stairs and get Henry. She paused on the top step without turning around. "Thank you Miss Blanchard." She didn't wait for a response, but continued down without turning back.
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On the 95, cruising down towards the New Hampshire border, she let her mind drift over the past five years with Henry. Her little man was growing up so fast, almost too fast for her to keep up. It seemed only yesterday that Mr. Gold was placing the little bundle into her arms, telling her that he belonged to her now. She had always longed to be a mother, but never once had she considered it possible. Things like adoption and surrogacy had always been foreign concepts to her; she'd never considered them options. But then… it was actually a conversation she had overheard one day in the diner between Mary Margaret Blanchard and the diner's waitress Ruby Lucas, that had originally drawn her interest to the subject. Miss Blanchard had been discussing her suspicions that Paige, a girl at Storybrooke Elementary, was adopted. The story was true of course; though the girl's biological father lived in a mansion, bigger even than Regina's own, on the outskirts of town, her biological mother was long dead and the girl lived with an adoptive family.
Regina had immediately began looking into adoption to find a child of her own. It hadn't taken as long as she imagined it did for the normal individual. She had a useful habit of getting what she wanted, and had a begrudging ally in Mr. Gold, who happened to be quite adept at procuring things desired by others. Within three months, she had opened the door to find Henry, wrapped in a fuzzy light blue blanket, blinking up at her with his beautiful green eyes, in the arms of the pawnbroker. She had never believed she would love again until that moment. But when she looked down into his little face, she'd been born again. In that moment, her world stopped revolving around herself and began orbiting around him.
She wiped the tears of the memories from her eyes before they could make their way down her cheeks and ruin her carefully applied make up. It wouldn't do to let everyone at group see her so distraught. She was the stoic one there, resolute and unmovable in the face of everyone else's sob stories. She wasn't truly sure why she kept showing up every month. All she knew was that the one time she had dared to miss it since she first started going was a time she regretted. There was something she liked about the anonymity of it. Sure, everyone there knew her by name; she had never tried to hide her identity, it wasn't that kind of group. But no one else lived so far away; she was the only out of state attendee. She wasn't sure, if this were Storybrooke, if it were all the people she lorded over as part of her job on a daily basis, she'd be able to open up as much as she did here. There was safety in them not knowing her.
She was one of the first three to arrive despite her late start leaving Maine. Traffic had been blessedly light on this Saturday afternoon. She gave a brief nod of greeting to the other early birds and dropped her purse on her usual seat, first row second seat in, before she went to the refreshment table and poured herself a cup of the bitter excuse for coffee that was provided. She drank it absentmindedly, having become immune to the taste long ago. People were filing again and her eyes swiped over them with a cursory interest. It was the same faces; it was always the same faces.
She looked over her at first, walking in and heading straight for that obsessively bright Cheryl Teague. The woman needed to hurry up and choke on a rainbow already. She was sweet, but cloyingly so, not a mean bone in her body. If there was one thing Regina couldn't take, especially here, it was unending optimism. But this new woman, the one who seemed to know Cheryl was something new. She was pretty, though not in the conventional sense. There was a darkness that hung around her that called to something in Regina. It wasn't the normal mist of melancholy that brought them all here monthly to commiserate together, no, this was something unique, like a signature scent in a room of generic perfume. This woman wasn't like them, but there was a sadness to her that was all its own.
She hadn't noticed she'd been staring until green eyes met hers across the room of people. The woman had caught her. No matter. She could care less if this blonde outsider knew that she was being observed. She met the gaze without flinching, daring the woman with her glare. She couldn't quite name the pleasure that suffused her when the woman didn't turn away. She stared back just as unflinchingly. It wasn't often Regina met a worthy opponent; Storybrooke's citizens had been under her thumb for too long to question her and the people here weren't exactly known for their ruthless natures. This was a promising development to a day that had begun mediocre at best.
"Regina." Reluctantly she broke her gaze first to nod in greeting to Gabrielle, their group organizer, trying to keep the girl from seeing her annoyance at having her little competition interrupted. Keen to get back to it, she turned her full attention to the petite brunette nurse in an effort to dispose of her attention faster.
She paid attention with only one ear, her eyes drifting over the small girl's shoulder and back to the blonde, who was engaged in an animated one-sided, as it most always was, conversation with Cheryl. The blonde looked thoughtful and Regina found herself wondering where those thoughts were. Green eyes, as if sensing her gaze, met hers once more, and she found herself looking back to Gabrielle, willing the girl to finish quickly so she could get back to surveying this new presence.
"Thanks Regina." She nodded, not entirely sure what she was being thanked for, but not really caring at the moment. There was just enough time to resume her little game with the blonde.
But as Gabrielle wandered away and Regina was able to turn her full attention back to the blonde, she saw that the woman's attention had been dragged elsewhere. She was staring intently at Dirk Barker, a lowlife of a man who Regina refused to associate with. He stumbled into their little meetings from time to time but she never paid him much mind. He wasn't good people. Why would the blonde care about him? She may not be high class, but she was obviously cut from better cloth than the likes of Dirk Barker.
"Can everyone please take their seats?" Gabrielle called out from the front of the room.
Regina tossed away her empty foam cup and went to her seat, keeping the blonde in her peripherals until she sat down and could no longer get a good vantage point. There was something about this woman that just begged her attention and, in that moment, she made a plan to seek the blonde out after group and find out exactly what that something was.
She was too distracted to notice Gabrielle looking right at her as she spoke. "Regina has very graciously agreed to be the first to speak today, so let's give her a round of applause."
Every muscle in Regina's body froze. Now Gabrielle thanking her made perfect sense. If she thought back, she could almost hear the woman suggesting that she open the meeting today, and she remembered her almost imperceptible nod as her mind had been distractedly on the blonde. Just perfect. She took a deep breath and stood, walking up to take Gabrielle's place at the front of the room. The only thing that made this even the least bit gratifying was seeing a pair of green irises that were focused solely on her like a spotlight. For some inexplicable reason, she felt like that's the only place she wanted them to be.
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Barker sat in the row ahead of her and three seats down, just the perfect spot to keep him in her peripherals while giving her free reign to stare at the back of the head of the woman five rows in front of her. After ten minutes of the small mousy brunette nurse whose name she'd already forgotten droning on, she was certain she'd memorized every hair on the back of Regina's head, the way her shoulders sloped, the way she rolled her neck every minute or so to loosen the kinks. She shook her head to rid them of thoughts she should not be having for a woman she hadn't even met yet.
Then she heard the nurse call Regina's name. Barker forgotten, her attention snapped solely to the brunette as she stood and went to the front of the room. She scanned the crowd, pausing only briefly to meet Emma's eyes before she spoke. "My name is Regina. I've been coming here for three years now and most of you already are familiar with why I'm here, but for those of you who aren't…" Her eyes locked with Emma's, this time holding the gaze once again. "I started coming here after I found out my son Henry has leukaemia. It developed when he was three."
Emma could tell by the rigidness in the woman's posture and the swift effective delivery of her words that this was a pre-programmed version of her, her brain on autopilot. She wasn't feeling her words, wasn't connecting with them, merely stating facts as if she were reading them off a page. It broke her heart just a little to watch someone obviously as strong as Regina go through this. The brunette kept the rest of it very brief, just stating that her son was currently still undergoing treatment but things were looking up and thanking everyone for their continued support. She sat down.
Emma had never considered that this might be a cancer support group. That was definitely far from the realm of possibility that had crossed her mind, but it made sense. She had known that Raymond Barker was sick, that's when Dirk's criminal activity had really started to pick up, but she hadn't known it was cancer. Regina's words had affected her deeply. To think that woman, who looked the picture of put together on the outside, was dealing with a sick kid on the inside. Emma couldn't even bring herself to deal with her healthy kid when he'd been placed in her arms, she couldn't even imagine what Regina must go through on a daily basis.
The nurse, Gabrielle, was back at the front of the room, asking if anyone else wanted to bravely share any news. She wasn't sure what came over her. Maybe it was because Regina had just opened up, in part she felt for her benefit, and she wanted to repay the kindness. Maybe she was just intent on embarrassing herself. But she raised her hand. When Gabrielle beckoned her up, she shuffled slowly to the front of the room. She'd never been very good at public speaking, but she wasn't awful. Still, this story was personal, something she hadn't shared with anyone outside of those who'd been present. But it's all she had to offer these people, all she had to offer her.
She took a deep breath and looked up at the crowd, expertly avoiding the one set of eyes she desperately wanted to look into. "My name is Emma." She paused, almost expecting them to do the 'hi Emma' typical of AA/NA, before continuing. "I don't know much about my family, they bailed when I was young. But I did have this one foster mom. She was nice to me; she never cared that I didn't wear dresses or play with dolls. She never tried to make me something I wasn't. In a way, she was the only mom I ever really had, the only one that mattered anyway." She wrung her hands in front of herself. "I had only been with her about five months when she was diagnosed. She said she wanted to adopt me, but they said she couldn't until she went into remission." Emma closed her eyes at the memory, the one time in her childhood she could ever remember being truly happy. "She fought really hard, but they… it was just caught too late. One day she went into the hospital and they sent me to stay with a lady from social services until she got out. I never saw her again." She looked up and her eyes locked with Barker's. She saw recognition dawn on his features and he got up, scooting out of his row and heading for the door. She was about to lose her chance.
She tossed one look at Regina, meeting her eyes for the briefest of seconds. "I'm sorry, excuse me." She ran from the room, hoping she hadn't lost her shot at Barker.
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"Another one bites the dust. I knew I could count on you Swan." Gus slapped her on the back as she set the completed paperwork on his desk five minutes before close of business day.
"Yeah, yeah." She didn't even spare him a smile.
"What's wrong with you? You look like someone shot your cat."
She shook off his concern. "I told you Gus, I don't work Saturdays. Keep that in mind from now on." She turned from her boss and headed out of the office to enjoy what was left of her weekend.
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Regina drove home feeling more resigned than usual. The woman, Emma- the name bounced pleasantly around her head as if it belonged there- had rushed out before Regina could stop her. She had looked so vulnerable standing up there before a group of strangers. Regina was far from an expert at sharing personal things, but she could tell by the blonde's body language that that story had not been something she shared with just anyone. It had made her eager to hear it. And, even more confusing, by the end of it, she had wanted nothing more than to hug the woman, to tell her everything would be alright, she was safe now. The only time she'd ever had feelings of that nature was towards her son.
She had only lingered for a few minutes of indecision before following after her. But when she'd reached the front of the building, the woman had been gone, along with the foreign yellow bug she'd never seen before that she'd noticed on the way in. It must have been Emma's car, which meant she was gone.
She had called ahead before leaving Boston, warning Miss Blanchard that she'd be late getting home. She'd instructed the teacher to take Henry back to her home and put him to bed, that she would be home as soon as traffic would allow. Mary Margaret had been surprisingly accommodating. She'd have to remember to get the woman something nice for Christmas to make up for the impromptu babysitting job.
Now, as she crossed the Maine state line, she found herself wondering if she would ever seen Emma again. It wasn't likely. She didn't expect to see the blonde at the next meeting after her run out in the middle. And she didn't live in Boston, so the likelihood of them running into each other by accident was slim. For reasons unknown to her, the idea of never seeing Emma again filled her with a dull ache. It was ridiculous; she barely knew the woman. But, she mused somberly, she wanted to. And that made all the difference.
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It was dark out when she finally pulled into the garage. The snow wasn't sticking to the ground quite yet, more of a wet slush, but it would be soon. She sighed and got out of her black Mercedes, pulling her wool coat tighter around herself to ward off the chill that wasn't completely to be blamed on the air. She paused at the garage door, before crossing the small car port that would lead to the kitchen corridor, to take a deep breath, like she did most days when she got home. Just a cleansing breath to prepare her for whatever she might walk into. Henry was a blessing, and always so well behaved, but he was only five and far from able to quite comprehend what was happening to his body. He understood he was sick and he understood that this was something that would follow him for as long as he lived. He knew his diagnosis and listened carefully to everything the doctor's said. Despite only being in kindergarten, he already knew more about the world than any other child his age; he'd been forced to grow up so fast. She had made a point never to try and hide anything about his condition from him if it could be avoided. But that didn't mean he fully grasped why this was happening to him. She never knew when it had been a bad day.
Steeling herself, she ran across the small carport to the side door, letting herself into a silent house. She hung her scarf and coat on the rack in the kitchen corridor before making her way into the big black and white kitchen. All was dark. She walked past it and into the foyer, going immediately up the stairs and straight for Henry's room. She opened the door to find her baby boy sleeping, a small frown on his face. She crossed the room and tucked his blanket tighter around him, pressing a soft kiss to his crinkled forehead. He was too young to be so worried all the time. As her lips left his skin, even in sleep, he visibly relaxed as if somehow sensing that momma was finally home; she'd come back to him. She crept back out of the room and down the stairs, content to find Mary Margaret Blanchard now that she knew her little man was fine.
She found the woman in the parlour, waiting for her return on one of the couches.
"Would you care for a drink Miss Blanchard?"
Mary Margaret started, not having heard her come in. She shook her head. "No thank you, I still have to drive home. But feel free…"
Regina didn't need the permission, but she gave an incline of her head in acknowledgment anyway and moved to the crystal decanter at the sidebar to pour herself a generous glass of cider. It felt good burning down her throat as she took a deep swallow to unwind from the day.
"How was your meeting?"
She glanced over her shoulder at the pixie brunette behind her. "It was… unexpected."
"You seem… happier somehow than when you left." Mary Margaret looked unsure as if maybe she had overstepped her bounds by saying so.
"I… there was someone in attendance who affected me. She left before we could properly make each other's acquaintance. I do not believe I will ever see her again." She moved to sit down on the couch across from the other woman.
"Do you want to? See her again, I mean."
Regina wasn't sure why she was opening up to the woman who she'd loathed all these years. She couldn't remember the last time she'd had a conversation with Miss Blanchard that didn't have a distinct undertone of menace to it. It felt almost… nice to talk with her like this. "Have you ever felt that nagging feeling in the back of your mind that you're forgetting something Miss Blanchard? It's like the memory is just centimetres out of your reach, but no matter how hard you try you just can't seem to grab hold of it?"
The schoolteacher nodded. "Everyday of my life."
Regina sighed. "I'd been feeling like that for so long that I'd almost forgotten it was there. But then… I looked into her eyes and I… it was as if I were remembering what I'd forgotten. My first thought was 'oh there you are'." She chuckled humourlessly. "That sounds completely ridiculous."
"No, it sounds serendipitous."
Regina fought the urge to roll her eyes. Leave it to the hopeless romantic that was Mary Margaret Blanchard to call it serendipity.
Mary Margaret stood as if she somehow sensed that she was about to overstay her welcome. "Henry had a good day. He kept mumbling about how he could feel change in the air. I just thought it was a by-product of the three times in a row he insisted we watch Mary Poppins, but maybe it was something else." She moved to the door. "She might surprise you Mayor Mills and show up when you least expect it. Who knows? Maybe you'll see her next month. Have a good night." She disappeared out the parlour door and a second later, Regina heard the front door open and close softly.
She sat back on the couch, leaning her head back and closing her eyes, clenching the glass tumbler in her hand. This whole day had been more than she'd ever thought it was going to be when she opened her eyes this morning. Time would tell if it had been a good thing or not. She refused to hope to see the blonde again. The chances were slim and betting against the odds was not in her nature.
But as Regina Mills turned off the parlour lights, ascended the stairs, and crawled into bed that night… she hoped.